August 13, 2013
Case Study

Email Marketing: How an e-commerce site eschews discounts in favor of eco-friendly content

SUMMARY: When Paul Cannella started his online business 10 years ago, he became the first manufacturer of eco-friendly canine waste bags in the United States, and snagged the URL

Learn how he built an email marketing strategy around environmentally conscious content, and used his employees and passions to grow the company.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter

Like many businesses, Paul Cannella, President and Owner,, started his company from an issue he found in everyday life. 10 years ago, he was constantly collecting various plastic bags for his Labrador, May.

"I assumed there must be a place to buy poop bags on the Internet, so I started looking. What I discovered was a ton of information on plastic, and just how terrible it was for the planet," Cannella said.

His search for eco-friendly dog products was futile, finding only one manufacturer of biodegradable dog waste bags, and it was located in Norway. The fact that nothing was available in the U.S. seemed ridiculous to Cannella.

He thought, "Why are we taking a natural product, sealing it up in a bag that will preserve the contents for 100 to 1,000 years?"

Cannella knew the market for his product was in retaining the highest standards for biodegradable product certification, and using his content as a means to emphasize that to consumers.

Over the past 10 years, he has been developing email content that engages his consumers, and emphasizes the issue that was important to him from the very beginning of the company.


Cannella is passionate about the ways in which his product protects the environment, and his email content has served as an outlet for his business and his customers to communicate on that topic.

He established a content calendar that revolves around various earth-related holidays, as well as topics that reflect his products — 100% biodegradable dog waste bags, and upcycled bag holders he calls BAR3K, the three R's standing for reduce, reuse and recycle.

Limited time-focused marketing has taken the place of sales and discounts for Cannella, and he said this encourages his customers down the purchase path faster than discounting his product.

"We've learned less is more. Newsletters should be focused to one or two highlights versus trying to cram in a ton of information or updates," he said.

Step #1. Set a theme for email content to reflect

Cannella spent 15 years in the publishing industry, concluding his career as the Director of Corporate Online Media Sales for Time, Inc. Because of this background, he knew from the beginning that he needed to utilize email marketing.

He realized people who were interested in buying his product, instead of just using any plastic bags or shopping at their local pet store, probably had similar ecological motivations.

So, Cannella decided the email content would have to reflect that desire to "make a small difference in the world." Every plastic bag he takes "out of use … is a huge personal victory," he said.

His belief that businesses should be responsible and "give back to the communities that support them" are what drive his email content. He believes customers are purchasing not just his product, but peace of mind in reducing their "carbon paw print."

"PoopBags has always been, and will always be, green at its core. I could sell plastic dog waste bags with a really nice margin all over the world with a URL like, but I don't want to," Cannella said.

He added by writing on topics he and his staff care about, such as environmental causes, charities and pet-related issues, compelling content becomes more simple to produce.

"It makes it easy to bond with people … Knowing that we write about things that are so important, and we care passionately about, makes [writing email content] pretty easy to do," he said.

Step #2. Create content calendar that reflects that theme

Overall for the year, Cannella said, they are "hitting main pinnacles" like Earth Day, the beginning of both spring and summer, as well as online shopping highlights Cyber Monday and Christmas.

"As the year unfolds, we look at the upcoming month, and lay out the real specifics on what will be featured," he said.

When it comes to frequency, he believes his team allows a schedule that works for both them and the subscribers. With a "less is more" approach, their newsletter sends focus on one or two major updates.

"We always align to the big days for us, like Earth Day, but then we lay out a schedule for the rest of the year. Once a month is too little, and once a week is too much, so we're somewhere in the middle with each having a significant update or promotion," he said.

For example, as a new product is officially in the warehouse, he said, it will become the focus of an upcoming newsletter.

Earth Day

This past Earth Day, sent out the newsletter with a watercolor graphic of hands holding the earth, and asked readers:

"What action will you take today to make your part of the world a little bit better? At, we are always looking for ways to help improve our surroundings; whether big or small we are committed to reducing carbon (paw and foot) prints."

They, the team announced their "Earth Day contribution … for our tenth year," teaming up with the Arbor Day Foundation to replant trees after a forest fire.

"Simply place an order of $25 or more and we will automatically donate a tree in your name! But that's not all … you can also purchase additional trees! Hurry, this offer is good for one day, April 22, 2013!"

Step #3. Draw from employees for content ideas

"Content ideas for me pop up at random times. I usually jot these down, and then use them to kick off conversations at our weekly employee meetings," Cannella said.

These weekly content meetings are vital to the process of producing newsletters, Cannella said, and "the team all contributes to the evolution of the newsletter."

The atmosphere of the meetings is collaborative, and he encourages his team to shoot down any of his ideas, or add to them.

"Sometimes they're a dud," he said, but added "sometimes they lead to something else with the team's feedback … and they're a hit."

One of the most rewarding newsletters, and experiences for his company, Cannella said, came from the newly chosen Employee of the Month.

That title comes with a bonus, he said, that the employee gets "to decide how to spend on the office, and their co-workers."

Cannella also owns a restaurant in the Chicago area, and after a fundraiser to rescue a dog named "Hopalong from the Chicago Animal Shelter," the chosen employee decided it would be a perfect opportunity to organize a field trip for the team.

"What goes around, comes around"

The team volunteered walking dogs, and spent the day with the animals at the shelter. Cannella described their experience in a letter to subscribers as content for their regular newsletter send.

He said, "I believe there are certain days in your life that will stand out when you're looking back one day. I'm confident that I just experienced one of them."

Cannella went on to describe the trip he and his employees took to the Chicago shelter, complete with pictures of the team with dogs, one of which has the caption "Team PoopBags & Glamor — who possesses a playful, yet gentle demeanor. She is one of many dogs we encountered who are in need of a forever home."

He encouraged subscribers to volunteer at local animal shelters, and in closing, said, "If you are already working to improve the lives of animals, or are inspired to take action after reading this, please share that with us by posting to our Facebook page or shoot an email to Take care."

Step #4. Put giving before giveaways

Cannella said he has never really believed in coupons or relying on "a quickie percentage off" a product as a go-to way to drive your business.

"If you offered me 10% off my business or said you were going to donate 10% to a cause I was passionate about, I would forgo the money to me, personally," he said.

Over the past 10 years, Cannella said he has found his customers to be very smart, up to speed on environmental issues and receptive to this type of offer.

"While everyone likes to save money … our customers would rather see the collective efforts of their savings be dedicated to save this specific dog, or save hundreds of trees," he said.

You Buy, We Donate — The Wounded Warrior Project

For this Fourth of July, Cannella and his team sent out an email benefitting the Wounded Warriors Project. The email stated:

"This Independence Day installment of You Buy, We Donate will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. From July 3 - July 7, will donate 4% of every sale to the Wounded Warrior Project. It is our hope that you will join us in supporting them. Simply follow the link, and happy shopping!"

The newsletter then invites the reader to share via social media, concluding with, "Sharing is caring! Be sure to share this email with all of your family and friends. We’ve made it easy, simply click on the links below!"


Cannella's three types of newsletters receive the following results using his environmentally conscious content strategy:

  • 16.3% - 24.3% open rate

  • 0.4% - 5.5% click through rate

  • 16.2% - 24.7% open rate

  • 0.8% - 5.1% click through rate

  • 16.9% - 27.9% open rate

  • 0.4% - 5.8% click through rate

Creative Samples

  1. Earth Day newsletter

  2. Chicago Shelter newsletter

  3. July 4 newsletter


Related Resources

MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2014 — There is no entry fee, deadline is September 8.

Email Marketing: CNET increases engagement by cutting nearly half of newsletter portfolio

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013 Wrap-up: Top 5 takeaways for email marketers

Email Marketing How-to: 5 steps to improve your email newsletter

Email Relevance: 8 tactics for leveraging timing, segmentation and content

Email Marketing: Good preference centers can hold onto subscribers even as they change

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